The Braves are not going to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Nor should they. Liberty is always going to be cheap, and spending one-fifth of the payroll on one player would be foolish. Signed Craig Kimbrel — who appears to be in decline but is likely to grab a bigger deal than the 3-year, $52 million contract (which has a vesting option that could add another year and $14 million) the Rockies gave to Wade Davis last winter — would also be a questionable investment.
The Braves still might dabble in the free agent market — Yasmani Grandal, terrible postseason and all, still makes a lot of sense, as does Wilson Ramos. Maybe they pursue A.J. Pollock, but he’s injury prone and had a lower OPS in the second half than Nick Markakis (more on him later). Much has been made of this free agent class, but in reality it’s top-heavy and old. They could also pursue a more affordable closer such as Jeurys Familia or David Robertson.
But trades will make or break the offseason. By now you know the needs; here’s how Rowland would address them.
*Trade Julio Teheran to the Brewers for Domingo Santana: Julio has been erratic but there are some positives to seize upon from his 2018 numbers. He posted the highest K/9 rate of his career and allowed a paltry 122 hits in 175-2/3 IP. But 4.3 BB/9, coupled with his propensity to give up the long ball, makes him expendable, and while he’s due to make $12 million in 2019, it’s the last year of his contract (with an option year that can be bought out for $1 mil) and Milwaukee could clearly use another starter.
People forget Santana had an .875 OPS, with 30 homers and 15 steals, for the Brewers in 2017. But he was the odd man out after the trade for Christian Yelich and the free agent signing of Lorenzo Cain. He spent most of the year in Triple-A, where he showed marked improvement as a fielder. He still strikes, a lot, but he had a .378 OBP in ’17 (and a .401 OBP in Triple-A). He probably won’t hit 30 homers again, but he’s a presence from the right side and would fit well in a platoon.
*Trade Kolby Allard to the Padres for Franchy Cordero. Allard may yet win with guile, but his stuff is clearly pedestrian. Cordero has star talent but, in a crowded San Diego outfield, has struggled to make contact and stay healthy. But he’s shown incremental progress as he’s worked his way up the ladder, flashing some impressive power in 40 games with the Friars in 2018. The year before, he hit .325 with 22 homers, 21 steals and a .945 OPS in Triple-A. But he also struck out 157 times. Dude is raw, but talented. Let him and Santana duke it out in RF; if neither performs, AA can always trade for another OF.
This assumes that San Diego would be open to trading Cordero. If not, maybe you sign Markakis for one year. He’s still an effective bat against right-handers (.828 OPS) and his “leadership,” though likely overstated, is not irrelevant. And there’s not as many options out there as you may think. But I stress: Nothing more than one year, as part of a platoon.
*Sign Grandal. Hey, we’re used to good players having bad postseasons (remember when Gary Sheffield turned into a poor man’s Nate McLouth in October?) But Grandal is the game’s best pitch framer and a force from the left side of the plate (20 HR, .844 OPS), making him an ideal platoon partner for Tyler Flowers (1.117 OPS vs. lefties this year).
*Trade Sean Newcomb, Austin Riley, Joey Wentz and Arodys Vizcaino to the Indians for Trevor Bauer and Yandy Diaz. Want an ace? Bauer is certainly that, cashing in big on his potential after underachieving with the Diamondbacks and Tribe. Had he not gotten injured he was a good bet to win the AL Cy Young: 2.21 ERA, 2.44 FIP, 11.3 K/9. He’ll be 28 on Opening Day and won’t be a free agent until 2021. Cleveland’s window is closing, however, and they’d still have one of the best rotations in the AL minus Bauer (and with Newcomb). Still, it would require a helluva bounty, and Riley and Viz would fill big holes, while Newcomb could take Bauer’s place in the rotation. Diaz can play first, third and the OF corners, and while he’s yet to hit for power, is a doubles and on-base machine. Depth will be a major priority for AA, and Diaz is just the kind of player he’ll value.
*I’d also re-sign Duda, where he’d join Culberson, Diaz, Flowers and (not Danny) Santana/Cordero/Markakis to form a versatile and productive bench.
*So what about the bullpen? And why create another hole by trading Viz? Here’s where I’d spend some cash, but only on short-term deals. AA is going to be careful to do no harm, preferring to trade cash for years, and he’ll have plenty of relievers to choose from who fit that profile. I’d sign two from this group: Robertson, Familia, Kelvin Herrera, Adam Ottavino, Adam Warren and Cody Allen. And it can easily be done for the same price — in money and years — that Kimbrel is likely to fetch. (Hard to gauge Zach Britton’s value, but he’s another possible option.)
That leaves you with a ‘pen filled with potential closers, including A.J. Minter. Max Fried would be my second lefty; he could be a dominant reliever, and I don’t see him winning a spot in the rotation over Toussaint, Soroka, Wright and, soon, Ian Anderson. Same goes for Luiz Gohara. Bryse Wilson is another option, though he, too could be potential trade bait. Plus they’ll have a healthy Darren O’Day, leaving Sobotka, Winkler, Biddle and Venters as depth either in Atlanta or Gwinnett. And I’d welcome back Anibal Sanchez for insurance, though it’s hard to imagine him winning a spot in the rotation.
No plan is perfect — I would’ve liked to add more of an impact bat, but Grandal is a definite power upgrade behind the plate and Santana/Cordero would no doubt provide more punch, albeit less consistency, in RF. Bauer and Folty would give the rotation the heft needed to compete against DeGrom/Syndegaard and Scherzer/Strasburg.
It’s a realistic plan, one that fits into even the most conservative payroll estimate while allowing the flexibility to add additional pieces as the season goes by. Of course now I’m left to wonder why I spent two hours concocting a plan that will never happen, but old habits die hard.